Pianists Show Up in the Most Unexpected Places

A Trip to the Salon with Live Classical Piano Music

Pianists Show Up in the Most Unexpected Places
Sophia Efthimiatou and Silver Cho pictured together.
The neon sign in the dark, second-floor window at the corner of 61st and Lexington simply read “Eyebrows.” Getting my eyebrows done had never failed to lift my spirits, and on that particular rainy Tuesday evening my spirits needed lifting. It was towards the end of my first fall in New York, in a corporate job I was not enjoying, and I could not get used to the rush of Manhattan. The City was no place for slow walkers with an uncertain destination.

“Yes?” a female voice answered when I rang the buzzer. She sounded irritated.

“I’m here for my eyebrows?” Only white noise came from the intercom. “Hello?” I said, louder. Nothing. I turned to leave when the door buzzed open.

Silver Cho, the owner of Silver Salon, was waiting for me behind a wooden desk. She gave me an impatient look when I walked in, and did not return my smile. Other than some beauty products on the shelves, and what looked like a dentist’s chair, there was not much about this place that resembled a salon. For one, there was an upright piano in the waiting area. There was sheet music on the rack, and the bench had been pushed back.

“I close at six,” Silver said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I can come back another time.”

“I will do your eyebrows this once, but I usually practice around this time, so in the future you know, this is not a good time for me, okay?”

“You play the piano?” I asked her as she plucked. “Two hours a day,” she said. “Every day.”

I nodded nervously. Silver handed me a price menu. She only did eyebrows and she was outrageously expensive. But, I figured, an eyebrow plucker who has a piano in her salon must be an exceptional eyebrow plucker. She took a picture of my eyebrows and told me they looked terrible. “You have a triangle,” she said, referring to their shape. “How can you walk around with a triangle?”

“I don’t know,” I said, and, apologetically, I followed her to the dentist’s chair.

“You play the piano?” I asked her as she plucked.

“Two hours a day,” she said. “Every day.”

There was another piano, she told me, a grand piano, at home. But she kept one in the salon, so she could practice whenever she had a break. “I play for you,” she said, after I admired the result of her plucking in the mirror. “Sit there.”

She threw her shoulders back and rested her hands on the keyboard. After studying the pages for a minute she started to play. The expression on her laconic face was one of intense focus, and I suddenly felt that my presence was intrusive, as if I was witnessing a very private moment. I thought to myself: How strange, how wonderful. The classical piano music was not coming out of a speaker, it was coming out of something alive—something that had come alive for me.

It was dark out now, still raining. Below us, I could see the lights of mad traffic on Lexington Avenue, the flood of dark umbrellas on the sidewalks. I had to go home, I had to buy dinner, I had to… But I didn’t move. Just a little longer, I thought. I sank into the pink armchair, closed my eyes, and let the music fill my head.

Guest Writer Sophia Efthimiatou is from Athens, Greece, and lives in New York. She is currently pursuing an MFA degree in creative nonfiction at Columbia University (’11). Previously, she worked as an acquisitions editor for McGraw-Hill, and Bloomberg Press (now a part of Wiley). Her essays have appeared in The Faster Times and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.
Here is Silver Cho performing Lizst Sonetto 47 Del Petrarca at one of her piano recitals:

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4 Comments

  1. I love this! You made me picture the scene perfectly: the rainy day, upright piano, stark salon, unsmiling brow plucker-pianist. Great photo, too!

  2. Jeanette–so glad that you enjoyed Sophia’s article. It’s one of my favorites too!

  3. So, how long has she been playing? Did she learn as a child?

    • It’s a good question, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know the answer. I can tell you that I know many accomplished pianists who did not learn until they were adults. Check out Robin Sloane Seibert’s work here on Grand Piano Passion. She started learning as an adult and plays beautifully.

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